The Grade II listed farmhouse on the edge of the village of Palgrave in Suffolk has been in Jane McClintock’s family for generations. With acres of surrounding land, Jane and husband Ian felt it was the perfect space on which to build a home for retirement.
The couple really wanted to experience something different to the 17th century farmhouse that they had always lived in which had been cold, draughty and dark in the summer. They visualised a modern, wooden house that was warm, cosy and full of light. Sustainability was a key priority for them and they wished to be as close to self-sufficiency as possible.
To make this vision a reality, Jane and Ian decided to employ an architect. During their research Mole Architects came up as a recommendation. As an artist herself Jane appreciated the way their previous work considered textural and material qualities as much as space, light and function.
Through discussions with the architects, Jane and Ian decided on the key priorities for their new home. An open ground floor, clear separation between the master bedroom and guest rooms, a wood-burning stove and good views of the surrounding landscape were all prime concerns for the couple. With this in mind, Mole Architects came up with various concepts to fit the brief. Together they decided on an exposed timber structure that utilises natural light alongside sustainable features.
Because the farmhouse is listed, it was important to discuss the plans with the Local Authority during the design process in order to gain approval for a modern house to be built on the site. This, along with the planning permission consent, took about a year.
Meredith Bowles, Director of Mole Architects, explains the material specification: "The project needed a quality that was rich but homely. We had previously worked with a groundworker who completed brilliant exposed boardmarked concrete and decided his skills should be employed for this project. We used a timber frame company that I had been to see in Switzerland a few years before this project and knew both the quality of the timber and workmanship employed was excellent. Ian was very keen to use cedar boards externally and we spent time trying to find the right mixture of stones and timber for the interior.
“The house was designed using a Passive House Planning Package software to ensure that the balance and size of openings to the south and west were going to work. We tweaked things a bit to increase glazing to the south and reduce it to the north – it’s surprising how much even a small area of north glazing is detrimental to sustainable performance.”
The finished home is designed to Passive House standards, incorporating high levels of insulation and an airtight envelope. Its compact form reduces energy loss and its orientation makes use of solar gain. Window sizes have been restricted with openings predominantly towards the south. The home benefits from solar photovoltaic roofing located on the garage. Solar collectors on the main roof provide hot water for the house and rainwater is stored for use in the garden.
Although the build went according to plan, the project took longer than originally predicted and the budget was increased to incorporate the lower ground floor and associated waterproofing. Other unseen costs were the additional photovoltaic cells added to the garage roof and the foundation piling – needed because the house sits across two different geological conditions, sand and clay. Neither of these had been included in the original budget, but, as Meredith states, “If you’re going to spend the rest of your life in a house, best get it right!”
The finished house is called Stackyard. It takes its name from the agricultural enclosure typical to the area, which is used to store sheafs of corn. Located on the edge of the farmland the house opens up views to the north-west and creates a space from which to enjoy the surrounding landscape.
The house sits within the ground, with an in-situ concrete base, timber frame and silvered timber cladding. It’s form takes inspiration from classical rectories that typically stand at the edge of villages, with a square plan and strong roofline.
Split levels negotiate the sloping site and the design departs from its classical predecessors in its use of an asymmetrical composition of windows, solar screens and doorways, giving the elevations a less formal appearance. Inside, a generous entrance hall opens into a double height atrium leading into living spaces with high ceilings and deep timber beams demonstrating the primary timber frame structure.
Responding to Jane and Ian’s brief for a space to observe nature, the upper bedroom sits half a floor higher than the parapet, with a projecting roof sheltering the room from summer sun. This creates a cap to the building whilst reinforcing its position as both retreat and hide.
The home showcases hi-tech low energy design solutions in a contemporary vernacular scheme, allowing the McClintock’s to embrace a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle in a house that harmonises with its rural setting.
The finished two storey home takes the English country house as design precedent, where it adapts quintessential concepts to make way for clear passive house principles.